Neuroplasticity: how to ‘carve a new pathway in your brain’ and literally rewire it
- The Facts:
Neuroplasticity shows us the ability to change our own brains by altering our perception of our environment through changing our thoughts, feelings, emotions, and actions.
- Reflect On:
It's amazing how aspects associated with consciousness can literally change our biology.
The brain is a very complex organ. It has nearly 100 billion neurons that send signals across tiny spaces referred to as synapses, of which you have nearly 40 trillion. This happens at a rate anywhere from 0.1-2 times per second, which means that between 18 and 640 trillion signals are sliding around in your brain every single second. It’s a mind altering thought, isn’t it?
Well, the good news is that you can literally alter your mind, meaning that you can change the structure of your brain and rewire it. Science is progressing, and it’s showing the implications our thoughts, feelings, emotions and actions have on our brains, and how these actually shape our brains in multiple ways.
This is called the science of neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity refers to the human brain and its ability to change itself. Obviously there are many factors that impact our brain–how it works and functions and the pathways that are hindered as well as created–but some of the most impactful factors are our thoughts, feelings and emotions.
Considering the science that is accumulating every year on this subject, it’s amazing how we’ve gone so long, especially from a young age, without learning about the importance of our thoughts, feelings and emotions and the impact they can have on our physical biology. The truth is, we live in a profit-centered world, and when it comes to the medical industry, treatments that greatly impact our biology in a number of ways but do not provide a profit seem to be the ones that get less recognition. That being said, they are extremely interesting and intriguing, which is exactly why concepts like these are capturing the attention of millions of people around the globe.
The idea that the brain is plastic in the sense of being changeable, adaptable and malleable is the single most important change in our understanding of the human brain over the last four hundred years, according to Dr. Norman Doidge, FRCPC, psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, and author of The Brain That Changes Itself and The Brain’s Way of Healing. In his books, he explains how neuroplasticity is the property of the brain that allows it to change its structure and its function, it’s a response to sensing and perceiving the world, even in regards to thinking and imagining. Human thoughts and learning actually turn on certain genes in our nerve cells which allow those cells to make new connections between them.
Below is a great little video by Sentis explaining the basics of neuroplasticity. The Sentis Brain Animation Series takes you on a tour of the brain through a series of short and sharp animations. The fourth in the series explains how our most complex organ is capable of changing throughout our lives. This inspiring animation demonstrates how we all have the ability to learn and change by rewiring our brains.
Does Neuroplasticity Originate In Your Brain, Or In Our Heart?
Obviously, neuroplasticity deals with the brain, but it also deals with our perception, thoughts, emotions, feelings and actions. So, we must ask ourselves: What is the source of our feelings–is it the brain, or is it the heart?
A group of internationally recognized leaders in physics, biophysics, astrophysics, education, mathematics, engineering, cardiology, biofeedback, and psychology (among other disciplines) have been doing some brilliant work over at the Institute of HeartMath.
Their work, among many others, has proven that when a person is feeling really positive emotions like gratitude, love, or appreciation, the heart beats out a different message, which determines what kind of signals are sent to the brain.
“One important way the heart can speak to and influence the brain is when the heart is coherent – experiencing stable, sine-wavelike pattern in its rhythms. When the heart is coherent, the body, including the brain, begins to experience all sorts of benefits, among them are greater mental clarity and ability, including better decision making.” (source)
In fact, the heart actually sends more signals to the brain than the brain sends in return. What’s even more amusing is the fact that these heart signals (from heart to brain) actually have a significant effect on brain function.
So far, the researchers have discovered that the heart communicates with the brain and body in four ways: neurological communication (nervous system), biophysical communication (pulse wave), biochemical communication (hormones), and energetic communication (electromagnetic fields).
“HeartMath research has demonstrated that different patterns of heart activity (which accompany different emotional states) have distinct effects on cognitive and emotional function. During stress and negative emotions, when the heart rhythm pattern is erratic and disordered, the corresponding pattern of neural signals traveling from the heart to the brain inhibits higher cognitive function. This limits our ability to think clearly, remember, learn, reason, and make effective decisions. In contrast, the more ordered and stable pattern of the heart’s input to the brain during positive emotional states has the opposite effect. It facilitates cognitive function and reinforces positive feelings and emotional stability.” (source)
The Bottom Line/Takeaway
At the end of the day, findings in this area really emphasize the point that change starts within. As a society, we’ve been trained to reach out and grab external crutches, like medications or other substances, in order to help us change our brains. Whether it be OCD or ADHD or something else, the power of the self shows great promise, we just have to be willing to put in the time and the work that will help us change our thoughts, feelings, emotions, perceptions and behaviours. It takes willpower and effort, as changing your behaviour isn’t easy, and it requires repetition and constant mental reminders. Self awareness and mindful techniques like meditation can be helpful, but ultimately, if you have the will, there will be a way. I know, because it’s something I have experienced.
For example, if you have a hard time focusing on something or incorporating a better emotional state into your life, you can actually practice gratitude. If you want to change your behaviour and be more active, you simply have to get up and go, be active, and find things to do. There aren’t specific methods or techniques, you simply have to DO. It all starts with you, and that thinking thing inside you, that has to overcome the programmed behaviours that’ve been engrained into your brain that are pulling you in the other direction.
I hope this helps. It’s actually a phenomenon that really shows us that no matter what’s going on around us, we always have the ability to cultivate peace, gratitude and good feelings within us. From that place within us, we can begin manifesting a better experience outside of ourselves. Again, change starts within, and that phrase applies to so many different things, from our own individual lives all the way into the collective human experience.